China’s mystifying holiday system

Last week I arrived in Beijing after a few days in Hangzhou and met up with some old colleagues, at our old office. It was a Saturday, but they were all working – the price they had to pay for the three-day Mid-Autumn Festival holiday. Get three weekdays off, but pay back one of those days by working on the weekend. One Chinese colleague lashed out at the government for what she called the world’s most irrational holiday system.

I was delighted to see a piece in yesterday’s NY Times that captures just how strange a system it is.

Beyond the frustration of overloaded transportation and jam-packed tourist attractions, there is the problem of figuring out what has become a decidedly confusing rubric of work and vacation days.

According to a government-mandated holiday schedule that took effect in 2008, workers were given three consecutive days off last week for the Mid-Autumn Festival, but they were required to make up two of those by working the Saturday and Sunday on either end of the holiday.

This give-and-take arrangement is then repeated for the National Day holiday, with employees enjoying seven straight days off — Friday through Oct. 7 — except only three of those are official free days. (The four “gifted days” will be made up over the weekends before and after.)

If you have trouble with the math, you are in good company…. A cheat sheet that has been making the rounds on the Internet sums up the pattern as such, beginning Sept. 18: One day off, three days on, three days off, six days on, seven days off, two days on, one day off.

Confusion aside, many Chinese resent having to pay back some of their vacation days.

The article does a good job of explaining how China’s “Golden Weeks” got started and how they’re being changed, and why so many Chinese feel exasperated with such a complicated mess.

I first experienced Golden Week-induced culture shock back in October 2002, and it never really went away. Being forced to work on weekends to make up for mandatory holidays was something I’d never fully get used to.